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The Ulysses spacecraft studies the Sun.
NASA

How Scientists Study Space Weather

Scientists combine various techniques to study space weather. Earth-based and orbiting telescopes constantly observe the Sun in many different wavelengths. Both satellites and ground-based instruments contribute readings of space weather features such as particle densities, magnetic field strengths, and radiation intensities. Scientists develop complex mathematical models based on the laws of physics to predict behaviors of space weather systems. Space physicists have also developed metrics, such as sunspot counts, to quantitatively describe variations in space weather.

Because of the complexity of space weather systems, scientists often use models to try to understand and predict the systems. Some models describe the Sun, others interplanetary space, and still others cover the Earth's magnetosphere or its upper atmosphere. Sophisticated computer software crunches the numbers generated by these models so scientists can compare their predictions with observed events.

We have only been making direct observations of the Sun and space weather phenomena using telescopes, satellites, and other sophisticated instruments for a relatively short period of time. The Sun, however, has been around for several billion years. Scientist use various "proxy" techniques to estimate levels of solar and space weather activity in prehistoric times and in more recent eras prior to the space age.

Last modified August 12, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA